A Look Back: Sixteen Candles

When we watch movies, we’re often presented with scenarios that require a suspension of disbelief, such as when a character accidentally makes dates for the same time and place, and rather than cancelling one like a normal person, chooses to try and be two places at once, inevitably getting humiliated in the process.  Some are completely ridiculous, but others may seem more possible.  “Home Alone,” asked parents if they could conceivably leave behind a child on a trip if it was completely hectic, the kid overslept, and whoever did the head count accidentally included the neighbor’s kid, and although I wasn’t a parent, I found that plausible enough.  Still, the set-up of an entire family (including extended relatives) forgetting their sixteen-year-old daughter’s birthday, as happens to Molly Ringwald in “Sixteen Candles,” is chilling and hard to buy, but it’s possible nevertheless, at least for me.

That perky Molly would wake up on the morning of her sixteenth birthday and receive not a single gift or special greeting seems off at first, but when we learn that it’s the day her older sister is getting married, it seems more plausible.  To add insult to injury, though, Molly’s body is refusing to cooperate and mature in a way that would make her more apparent to her crush (Michael Schoeffling).  But even though Molly is disappointed that she hasn’t turned into a swan overnight, her grandparents have a different view.  Upon arrival, her grandmother squeals, “Fred, she’s gotten her boobies!” plus, they bring along an exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), who is definitely dorky  So things are kind of grim.

Molly’s day does not improve when she answers what is supposed to be an anonymous “sex test” in a class, and after revealing the name of her crush, realizes that he may have seen what she wrote.  We also get to see Michael’s current girlfriend (Haviland Morris) who has finished with the messy puberty process, and very hot, even though it appears that Michael may be having second thoughts about the relationship.  That night, still smarting from being neglected, Molly attends a school dance, and her humiliation increases when it turns out that even dealing with culture shock and dressing in attire that will make a character later inquire if he’s “retarded,” Gedde manages to hook up much faster than she does.  (Alcohol and other recreational substances are the great equalizer – they make teens from all cultures lose their inhibitions.)  Michael and Haviland attend the dance, too, as does a character simply called the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) who has a huge crush on Molly.  It turns out that there is much more embarrassment in store.

In fairy tales, the heroine sometimes has to undergo a humiliating test before she triumphs, gets her prince and lives happily ever after, and this is certainly true for Molly in this movie.  The heroine may also encounter a person who is “different” in some way: elderly, unattractive, etc., and after proving that they are compassionate, are rewarded unexpectedly.  This happens here, too, when Molly agrees to lend Anthony her panties for an hour, so he can show them off to the entire freshmen male population – and he agrees to put in a good word for her with Michael.  Later on, at a party Michael is hosting, a series of unexpected events occur when Haviland passes out drunk, and like a gentleman, he lends Anthony his car so he can deal with her, after learning of Molly’s true feelings.  (In other words, date rape occurs, though this is played completely for laughs so no one has to undergo moral dilemmas or deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome.)  Haviland, as far as movie mean girls go is pretty benign, and her only real “crime” appears to be looking over twenty and not being able to hold her liquor, so when I saw “Sixteen Candles” I did feel sorry for her.  But she’s really a side-note in the story.

Now that he’s slipped his leash, Michael attempts several times to get in touch with Molly, but gets a tongue lashing from her grandparents via phone.  When the wedding arrives, Molly is a bridesmaid (by this time, her dad has remembered her birthday), and her sister winds up with her own dose of humiliation, thanks to a bottle of muscle relaxants.  When Molly comes out of the church, Michael appears like magic and gestures toward her – and it turns out that he’s managed to procure a birthday cake, even though it might be more prudent to try and clean up his totally trashed home before his parents see it.  But that would make for a much less satisfying ending.

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